Why choose a career in aerospace?
As the number one aerospace industry in Europe, the UK appeals to global aerospace manufacturers because of its world class capabilities.
This high-technology, high-skill industry features a broad range of high-value disciplines, including engineering, science, project management, production, service, training and finance. As such, it remains at the forefront of new research and development (R&D). The UK aerospace sector directly employs almost 110,000 people across the country and many more in the supply chain, with an advanced manufacturing base providing work for around 3,000 companies of all sizes.
In particular, south west England has a strong presence of global players and generates a breadth of specialist technical knowledge for the aerospace sector. The region has a proven ability to produce spin-out companies with linkages and diversification into related sectors and has the largest amount of investment in aerospace for R&D in the UK. As a result, leading academic institutions produce high calibre graduates, and the region benefits from expertise in robotics, autonomous systems, composites, ceramics, avionics and other higher value added technologies.
The future looks positive, with continuous investment planned across the supply chain. Engineering is significant to both the UK’s economy and employment rate, as every new engineering role leads to an additional two jobs being created. The challenge facing the aviation sector is how to find the talented engineers it needs to drive ongoing growth, particularly as companies need to recruit and retain staff for the long term.
In addition, modern aircraft are becoming increasingly complex, placing greater emphasis on the need for very specific engineering skill-sets; this is largely due to the industry’s growing focus on its environmental impact – composites make aircraft more fuel-efficient.
Job roles to consider within the aerospace industry include:
- Electrical engineers, specifically an electrical machine design engineer and power electronics engineer
- Production and process engineers, specifically manufacturing engineer (process planning) and manufacturing engineer (purchasing)
- Engineering professionals, such as chief of engineering stress engineer, aerothermal engineer, advance tool and fixtures engineer
- Buyers and procurement officers, specifically manufacturing engineer (purchasing)
- Aircraft maintenance and related trades, specifically licensed and military certifying engineer/inspector technician
- CNC programmers
- Composites engineer
Careers in aerospace engineering
There are three key points of entry into the aerospace and advanced engineering industries:
- At 16 years – Those who prefer a more ‘hands-on’ practical approach to their studies, rather than academic, should consider direct entry into an aerospace company. There are Craft Apprentice Schemes that can lead to a BTEC, NVQ or City and Guilds qualification
- At 18 years – Those who have completed their A-Levels, but university isn’t for them, can aim for a Technical Apprentice Scheme or Graduate Apprenticeships – this is where the candidate can take a sponsored degree, as well as get paid by their sponsor company
- Post graduate – All major aerospace companies operate graduate entry trainee programmes, which accelerate university graduates into senior management roles
What is an aerospace engineer?
Aerospace engineers are usually seen as experts in the design, manufacture and innovation of existing and new aerospace components. Many join a large aerospace manufacturer following university and rotate around several departments aiming to specialise in a particular field of engineering.
Typically, aerospace engineers will be working to improve fuel efficiency, safety, speed, weight, incorporate new technologies or to meet changing customer needs. Many aerospace technologies are transferred to other industries, notably automobile, but also increasingly in the low carbon sector.
Key skills and qualifications
- Innovation, teamwork, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills
- A strong background in maths and physics
- A relevant degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering, and possibly a postgraduate qualification
Apprenticeships are the traditional entry point for engineering roles. This is because the employer supports the student with both practical experience and college studies in preparation for qualifications such as foundation degrees and/or higher national certificates and higher level vocations.
All of the following local aerospace companies offer apprenticeships for craft, technical or graduate level entry:
- BAE Systems
- Safran Landing Systems
- Leonardo Helicopters
- Honeywell Aerospace
Most major aerospace companies run graduate schemes. Schemes usually start in September each year, but recruitment is usually one year before, so most places are filled by early spring. During the graduate programme, trainees will usually rotate through several relevant departments to get a feel for how the business and engineering departments operate; this can even include an overseas placement with an international partner company. The graduate then moves into a more specialist role following the programme.
Some SMEs may offer graduate level roles that offer a more specialist route with a lot of on-the-job training directly alongside more senior engineers.
Graduate entry roles in the aerospace industry are as diverse as:
- Aerodynamic Engineer
- Aeronautical Engineer
- Aircraft Mechanic
- Avionics Technician
- Chief Engineer – Hydraulics
- Chief Engineer – Structures
- Chief Engineer – Systems
- Chief Engineer – Propulsion Systems
- Chief Project Engineer
- Composite Manufacturing Engineer
- Computational Fluid Dynamicist
- Cost Engineer
- Electrical Power System Engineer
- Environmental Control Engineer
- Flight Simulation Engineer
- Human Factors Engineer
- Integration and Test Engineer
- Life Support Systems Engineer
- Manufacturing Engineer
- Mechanical Systems Engineer
- Mission Assurance Engineer
- Programme Manager
- Quality Assurance Specialist
- Reliability Engineer
- Software Safety Engineer
- Stress Engineer
- System Design Engineer
- System Safety Engineer
- Technical Writer/Author
- Thermal Engineer
- Wind Tunnel Test Engineer
Career advice, opportunities and contacts
Here at WEAF we have many connections within the South West Aerospace supply chain, we may be able to assist in finding companies offering temporary placements such as work experience, summer jobs, or sandwich coursework. Please contact us for further information.
Aerospace engineering training courses
WEAF works closely with industry training providers in the region, including:
University of the West of England
Dr David Richardson
Programme Manager for Aerospace Engineering Manufacturing
0117 32 82223
University of Plymouth
Catherine Parnall – Business Development Officer
Curriculum Lead for Engineering
Simon Brewer, Head of Employer Relationships: 07703 192822
Chris Young, Head of Apprenticeship Development: 07703 192810
If you are looking for a permanent position in the aerospace sector, or considering a career change, please contact:
KDC Resource Limited
Or, the relevant aerospace company:
- Finmeccanica Leonardo Helicopters (AgustaWestland)
- Rolls Royce
- GKN Aerospace
- BAE Systems
- Boeing Defence
- General Electric (GE Aviation)
- Moog controls
- Safran Group (Messier-Bugatti-Dowty)
- United Technologies
For additional independent advice, the following bodies may be useful: